Insects, the only invertebrates that have learned how to fly, use their wings as key assets in their global colonization. Their wings can be protective shells, musical instruments (grasshoppers), camouflage, signals to recognize each other, a means of attracting mates or warning predators, even tools to fly.
Folded Wings (above image): An early and much-needed innovation was the ability of insects to fold their wings, demonstrated by this mayfly (order Ephemeroptera). Image: Eric Beaulieu
Built Butterfly Tough: The colored scales that cover butterfly wings advertise their owner’s identity in big, splashy colors. Butterflies like this swallowtail (family Papilionidae) retain many veins in their wings to act as struts for added strength. Image: Gabba Gabba Hey
Veined Taxonomy: Wing venation is endlessly varied. Studies of venation patterns allow entomologists to trace lineages and identify specimens, like this dragonfly (order Odonata). Separating one species from another can lie in a careful examination of the branching and cross hatching of veins. Image: Jean-Christophe
Hardened Wing Covers: Beetles use their front set of wings as protective covers. Many beetles, such as this ladybug (family Coccinellidae) can still fly using their second set of wings. These wings, with fewer veins, can be neatly stored under the wing covers. Image: nutmeg66
Hidden Patterns: This moth from Brazil (family Saturniidae) is outfitted to blend into the forest. Image: Luisa Mota
Translucent Wings: The dainty glasswinged butterfly (genus Greta) has pockets of transparency in its wings, which help it blend in wherever it is. Image: Maki Aoyama
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